Tuesday, January 10, 2012

BookTuesday: Reading Revelation

Who's ready for the end of the world? You? Your next door neighbor? Anyone out there really ready for the end…for the Apocalypse? If you're not sure if you're ready for the end of all things and are Biblically-minded, you might be spending some time reading Revelation to think about it. If so, you'll be looking at a book with a variety of interpretations and might want some help. When you look for help, you may find today's book: Reading Revelation by C. Marvin Pate and published by Kregel Publishing's Academic & Professional arm. (Can you tell which division gave me free books for this month? Last week, this week, and the week before?)

Reading Revelation: A Comparison of Four Interpretive Translations of the Apocalypse

A quick disclosure: the author, Dr. C. Marvin Pate, is now a professor at the university I attended. He came to the school about a year after I graduated, but the esteem I hold the school and professors that he works with now might cloud my judgment somewhat.

I'd like to break this review into a few components:

First: book style. This book is not made to hold up for decades of use. It is a softcover book with letter-size pages. It has the feel of a consumable workbook without the perforations. That's not all bad, but if you're looking for a heavily durable text, this is not it. I'm not aware of a similar content work, though, that's any better.

The book opens with about seven pages of introductory material followed by a five-column presentation of the book of Revelation from the Bible. The five-column section is printed in landscape format, while the introduction is in portrait. I will admit this: I see the necessity of that arrangement, but it's annoying. I like books that work like books are designed, not that I have to turn sideways to read. The format works, though, as the printer left plenty of space going into the binding to not lose text in.

Second: this book seems like it started as class notes and finishes as a textbook, and so the back contains a few pages of advertisement for other Kregel books. That's not really a problem, but it does squeeze the actual material page count below 200.

In line with this, the book does not provide a great deal of background study on the authorship or other details of Revelation. Neither does it delve into textual issues or circulation theories. It is strictly focused on interpretation of the primary textual reading.

Finally, content: Where to begin? The interpretations of Revelation are almost as numerous as the people who read it. However, that does not make for a good summary book. So, Pate has followed the norm and condensed the views on Revelation to four: Preterist, Historicist, Futurist, and Idealist.

This is where the content will disappoint some readers. If you have a well-formed view of the book of Revelation, you will likely not find your view appropriately represented by Pate's writing. This stems from him writing on views he does not agree with: though he cites sources for three of the views, he personally does not hold fully with them. The view left without a source is the Historicist View, mostly because it is not commonly found in modern times. It was most popular in the Reformation Age.

The five-column format then presents these columns:

Column 1: Greek Text from the NA27/UBS4 edition, presented without apparatus or footnotes, alongside a strongly literal translation of the Greek. Not much to debate here: rather than using an English version, Pate has made his own. His goal is stated as intended to make for a completely neutral, though archaic, translation. This saves the reader from having to have a Bible handy, but if you're not handy with the Greek, you would do just as well to have your Bible handy to verify that he's not around the bend on his translation. (He's not, but you should check.)

Columns 2-5: these present how each of the four major groups of interpreters would understand the specific verses at stake. He attempts to show how each school, for example, understands the 144,000 of Revelation 7. Throughout these, Pate attempts to be fair to all four views. The summaries sound nice, and the only version that it seems necessary to outright reject is the Historicist position, which has generally been rejected for a while anyway.

What I find lacking in this section is footnotes and references. In fact, that would be my primary negative regarding this book: there are 22 footnotes in the whole work, all in the introduction. So, if one is seeking further study in Revelation or to verify that, for example, the Futurist view really holds that Russia will lead the coalition against Christ or not.

This drawback builds to my criticism here: this book, in the end, feels like it should be part of a longer, more complete treatment of the whole of Revelation. Dr. Pate has written more on the subject, and perhaps the intention here was to create a companion work for his other works, such as his Four Views of Revelation (he edited that work and wrote one of the sections.)

If you have additional resources to explore Revelation, this one will make a handy addition. It's not the best introduction to the material, though. I would commend Pate's Four Views of Revelation for introduction above this work, and definitely encourage the reader to consult the two together.

Free book from the publisher in exchange for the review. My alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University, does not offer graduate programs and so Dr. Pate holds no lasting threat to tilt this review.

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